Seatbelts and motorcycle helmets were optional and the blood-alcohol limit was higher - that was Easter 1971 when 21 people died on the country's roads.

Fast-forward to Easter this year, when six people died in road crashes. Seatbelts and helmets have long been compulsory and alcohol limits have been progressively lowered.

The Easter road toll this year was three times as many as last year and was the highest it has been since 2010, when 12 people died.

Over the decades the number vehicles on our roads has grown enormously - we have roughly 4.2 million now, compared with about 1.2 million in 1971.

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In 2013, the annual road toll dropped to its lowest level this century, 253 deaths, but has since bounced back, to 379 last year.

By this afternoon, the year-to-date toll stood at 108, after the death of one person in a two-car crash at Wellsford which blocked State Highway 1. By the same point last year, 94 people had died.

The six Easter long weekend fatalities were a motorcyclist who collided with a truck in Rotorua on Saturday; Hamilton children Arteen Mosaferi, 4, and Radeen Mosaferi, 2 months, who died after a crash between two cars and two truck/trailer units near Waiouru on Friday; a driver and a passenger who died after a two-car collision near Kerikeri on Monday; and Denise Tito, of Taupo, killed by a crash north of the town on Friday.

Authorities have appealed for everyone to wear a seatbelt and for drivers to watch their speed, focus on driving, stop and rest if tired, and not to drink.

Our highest annual road toll was in 1973 when a staggering 843 people died - more than double the tally last year, when the population was far higher. The per-capita road toll was more than four times higher in 1973 than in 2011.

What's changed?

The maximum speed limit had been raised from 50 to 55 miles per hour (80 to 89km/h) in 1963, and in 1969 to 60 mph (97km/h) on some motorways. Now it is 100km/h and in two places 110km/h.

Seatbelts were required in the front seats of new cars from 1965, but wearing them wasn't mandatory until 1975. From 1979 they were required to be fitted in the back too, and had to be buckled up from 1989.

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Safety seats for children became common by the late 1970s, but were not made mandatory - for children under 5 - until 1994. Children now must be secured in an approved child restraint at least until they turn 7, and there is official encouragement to continue using one until a child grows to 148cm tall or turns 11.

The Automobile Association, delving into its files, found several articles about seatbelts, including, in a 1971 story headed, "Can drivers be compelled to wear safety belts?" and one the following year, "If you'd only worn your safety belt".

AA policy research manager Peter King told the Herald no-one would have realised in 1973 that it would be the worst year for road deaths.

"They were conscious of safety and the need to act but it was a very different time."

Driving under the influence of alcohol was long recognised as a problem, but only slowly were controls imposed. The first breathalyser was introduced in 1969, according to the Ministry of Transport, which notes that in the first year of operation 2928 drivers were tested, of whom only 214 were "sober enough to drive".

The 1973 "oil shock" - in which Arab oil-exporting nations restricted supply for political reasons, forcing up petrol prices - is credited with improving road safety in New Zealand, because one of our Government's responses was to lower the speed limit to 80km/h.

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Carless days, from 1979 to 1980, were a New Zealand response to the second oil shock and another safety measure. Vehicle owners, unless they could get an exemption, had to choose one day a week on which they wouldn't drive their vehicle, or risk a fine.

Car safety has improved radically in the average car since the 1970s, with the introduction of air-bags, anti-lock braking systems and, in newer models, the increasing use of cameras and other monitoring devices to help prevent crashes and keep the vehicle safe.

Easter road tolls compared
Easter 1971
• 21 people died in road crashes
• Seatbelts required in front seats of new cars but wearing them optional
• Helmets optional for motorcyclists unless travelling at more than 50km/h
• Drink-driving limit 100mg alcohol per 100ml of blood
• About 1.2 million registered vehicles
• Population 2.85 million

Easter 2018
• 6 people died in road crashes
• Wearing a seatbelt compulsory
• Helmets compulsory for motorcyclists
• Drink-driving limit 250mcg alcohol per litre of breath for drivers 20 and older, and 50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood. Limit of zero for drivers under 20.
• About 4.2 million registered vehicles
• Population 4.74 million